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Originally published Wednesday, July 13, 2011 at 7:48 PM

Coffee component tied to caffeine may curb Alzheimer's risk

Recent studies have shown that heavy doses of caffeine might help prevent or delay the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

St. Petersburg Times

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TAMPA — Recent studies have shown that heavy doses of caffeine might help prevent or delay the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

But rather than guzzling down super-caffeinated drinks such as Red Bull or taking stay-awake caffeine pills such as NoDoz, researchers at the University of South Florida say coffee might be the way to go.

A new study points not to caffeine, but rather an unidentified component in coffee that interacts with caffeine, as a potential weapon against the memory-robbing disease that afflicts more than 5 million Americans.

Using mice bred to develop Alzheimer's symptoms, the USF researchers found that caffeinated coffee causes an increase in blood levels of a growth factor called GCSF, or granulocyte colony-stimulating factor. The substance, greatly decreased in patients with Alzheimer's, has been demonstrated to improve memory in Alzheimer's mice.

In the study, researchers compared effects of caffeinated coffee (drip, not instant), decaffeinated coffee and caffeine alone. Only the caffeinated coffee stimulated GCSF.

USF researchers say the findings, described in the June 28 Journal of Alzheimer's disease, provide the first evidence that caffeinated coffee offers protection against Alzheimer's that is not possible with other caffeine-containing drinks.

"Caffeinated coffee provides a natural increase in blood GCSF levels," said the study's lead author, Dr. Chuanhai Cao, of the university's Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute. "The exact ways that this occurs is not understood."

The researchers hope to identify the component so coffee and other caffeinated beverages could be enriched with it to provide disease protection. Cao said identification could take a year or more.

The USF study involved mice, and mouse research results do not always pan out in humans. But previous observational studies in humans have reported that daily coffee or other caffeine intake during midlife and older age decreases the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

(Contact Richard Martin at rmartin@sptimes.com.)

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